It’s very important to understand the difference between good carbs and bad carbs, because the choices you make in carbohydrates has a crucial impact on your level of mental and physical health both currently and in the future. How well you feel, function and perform right now is heavily influenced by carbohydrate consumption and the ingestion of the wrong types of carbs has a direct influence on the condition of your health throughout your lifetime.
The consumption of bad carbs is directly linked to the following health conditions:
- obesity and unwanted weight gain
- heart disease
- type 2 diabetes
- high blood pressure
- blood clots
- high tryglycerides
- intestinal permeability
- irritable bowel, Crohn’s and other GI disorders
- indigestion, GERD etc.
- hemorrhoids, constipation etc.
- kidney stones
- plaque build up
- food allergy and sensitivity
- hypoglycemia/low blood sugar
- carbohydrate addiction
- sugar addiction
- compulsive overeating
- fatty liver, which impairs detoxification abilities and can result in end stage liver disease
- Candida yeast overgrowth
- nutritional deficiencies/malnutrition
- weak immunity
- increase in blood cholesterol
- alcohol addiction
- drug addiction
- increasing the half life of prescription drugs within the system
- anxiety disorders
- chronic fatigue
- adrenal fatigue
- increased triglycerides
- hormone imbalance
Unfortunately, what society has been taught and continues to be taught about carbohydrate consumption is not only false, but irresponsible and destructive as well. It is this dissemination of misinformation that is largely responsible for the epidemics in many of the conditions listed above that we see in society today.
Definition of a Good Carb
What defines whether a food is placed in the good carbs bad carbs category?
A good carb has a low glycemic index, which means it is digested and absorbed slowly and doesn’t cause blood sugar and insulin levels to spike. Good carbs also do not cause overstimulation to neurotransmitters in the brain, the adrenal glands or the endocrine systems as a whole. Most importantly, they are nutrient dense – meaning they are rich in nutrients. They should be consumed in their unprocessed whole and natural state.
Within the good carbs bad carbs category we can actually divide it up into two more categories so we have really bad carbs, bad carbs, better carbs, good carbs.
Really Bad Carbs
At the top of the list in the really bad carb category are white flour, refined foods and sugar of any kind. This includes organic sugar, date sugar, beet sugar, organic cane juice, organic cane syrup etc.
- Sugar of all kinds
- High-fructose corn syrup
- White flour
- Cookies, brownies, candy etc.
- Potato chips, corn chips, etc.
- Alcoholic beverages
These foods, although better than those above are still high in starch that gets broke down into sugar very quickly in the body.
- Whole grains – brown rice, oats, wheat, rye, barley,
- Alternative grains, kamut, spelt, etc.
- Sweet potatoes, yams
- Lima beans
- Winter squash
- Fruit juice
The foods in the better carbs category are foods that are better than those in the bad or really bad, but still not preferred. They should be strictly limited, as they too are still too high in sugar and cause a spike in blood sugar and insulin.
- Maple syrup
Non-starchy vegetables of all kinds and whole fruits that are low in sugar are the only foods that belong in the good carb category.
- Lettuce of all kinds
- All leafy greens
- Green beans
- Carrots – however they should be limited. A plate full of carrots by themselves is actually pretty high in sugar. If you put a small serving in with another veggie, then that reduces their impact on blood sugar.
- Bananas, pineapples, grapes and organges are in the good carb category, however they are very high in sugar and should be eaten in limited quantities as well.
Why are Whole Grains, potatoes, Legumes etc. in the Bad Carb Category?
Yes, I know that many people are surprised to learn that foods like whole grains, legumes, sweet potatoes, potato etc are on the bad carb list. Contrary to popular belief, these foods are not good carbs and I’ll explain why.
Dr. Charles Gant, one of my favorite mentors and an expert in the field of integrative medicine, tells us that a carb is a carb. He further states that these types of carbs are completely non-essential in the diet. If you look at the research in the top 100 reputable scientific nutritional texts, not one of them define these carbohydrates as essential in the human diet. It is the food industry that has led this campaign to make us believe that we should eat whole grains, legumes, potatoes, etc. This is totally not true and leaves society very confused on the whole good carbs bad carbs issue.
Yes, if you’re going to eat grains, whole grains is better because they are digested a little slower and they contain some nutrients, unlike sugar, white flour etc. However, the impact on the endocrine system is the same. Whole grains, potatoes etc. still lead to all the health conditions listed above because they are still broken down into sugar in the body and cause a rise in insulin levels and blood sugar.
When you eat a meal high in carbohydrates, even whole grains, starches etc., it causes a rapid rise in the body’s glucose levels. The pancreas then responds by releasing insulin to bring the blood sugar levels back down. This incites a process where the pancreas tells the glucose receptors to open and glucose then either gets stored as glycogen in the liver or fat in the cell.
If you are continually eating a diet of carbohydrates, then eventually too much sugar gets stored as fat. The glucose receptors become overwhelmed with all this sugar to process. They say ‘hey we’re storing too much fat here, and we’re not doing it anymore” and respond by becoming inactivated or “resistant.” However since sugar keeps entering the blood stream with each meal, the pancreas creates more insulin and forces the glucose receptors to store the fat and they respond with more resistance. The pancreas then creates more insulin and the receptors become more resistant and so on and so on. This is known as insulin resistance, which results in inflammation, cell disruption and an avalanche of destruction to various system that leads to obesity, high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, increase in tryglycerides etc.
Over time if this vicious cycle continues, too much sugar gets stored as fat in the cell and the pancreas is releasing very high levels of insulin, but the receptors are shut down completely. They refuse to store anymore, because they have too much. Thus there is a high level of insulin and glucose in the blood stream, but the glucose isn’t making it into the cell. This is a more advanced stage of insulin resistance and results in what is called hyperinsulinism. If the cycle continues, eventually the pancreas becomes too wore out to function properly at all, it quits producing insulin and the blood sugar level stays high all the time. Type 2 diabetes appears.
It should be clear at this point why the consumption of carbs and insulin resistance is a primary cause of weight gain and obesity. The more carbohydrates you eat, the more fat that gets stored in the cell. It isn’t fat that is the primary problem, it’s sugar and carbohydrates. Fat can’t be stored as fat without glucose.
Additionally, since all the carbs in the really bad and bad category are high in sugar they also disrupt neurotransmitters in the brain. They cause an excessive release of neurotransmitters like dopamine, serotonin and endorphins, which then leads to depletion. This is the same process that happens in the brain with alcohol and drugs, which is why sugar, white flour and carbohydrates in general are addictive. Carbohydrates are addictive by nature, it is the way nature designed them to propagate the species. This disruption to the endocrine system and neurotransmitters is the primary cause of food addiction or compulsive overeating.
Other reasons that whole grains and legumes are in the bad carb category is because as Professor Loren Cordain points out, these foods are not part of the diet that human race is supposed to eat. These types of foods were not part of our diet for millions of years and we are not genetically equipped to process them effectively. They came into the diet with the Agriculture revolution only 10,000 years ago.
Grains, including whole grains and beans contain anti-nutrients, which are chemicals that prevent the body from absorbing nutrients, damage the gastrointestinal tract and result in insulin resistance. They contain lectins, which is a substance consisting partly or carbohydrate and part protein that has evolved in certain plant species to provide protection from predators.
Typically when we eat protein, it is broken down by the body into amino acids and absorbed, but because of the carbohydrate portion in the lectins it cannot be digested or broken down. Instead they bind to cells in the gastrointestinal tract and hinder nutrient absorption, which increases intestinal permeability, allowing partially digested food particles and bacteria in the gut to enter the bloodstream. Usually our immune system detects and attacks unwanted bacteria and food particles, but lectins impair the ability of our immune system to protect itself. It basically tricks the body into attacking itself. This all leads to inflammation and autoimmune disease.
This also leads to deficiencies in a variety of vitamin and minerals like the B group, folate, vitamin a, iron, zinc and vitamin D because lectins disrupts its metabolism. Additionally, grains and beans upset the balance of acid in the kidneys and contributes to loss of muscle mass and bone mineral content.
To learn more about the facts on grains, beans, potatoes etc., I encourage you to read *The Vegetarian Myth and *The Paleo Diet. Another very good source is the PACE book by Dr. Al Sears, which not only covers the types of carbs you should be eating, but a revolutionary way of exercising.
When the diet is high in carbohydrates, then it is lower in the nutrients that are essential – protein and fat. Most people are only eating half the amount of protein that is needed for optimal health. Among other things, protein is needed to burn off calories, provide energy and strong immunity. It boosts metabolism and stabilizes glucose and insulin levels. Fat is needed for the production of hormones and neurotransmitters.
Based on millions of years of nutritional facts, the only foods that we were genetically adapted to eat include meat, fish, eggs, non-starchy vegetable, nuts, seeds and fruit. Grains, beans, potatoes etc. are not on this list. It is our deviation from the diet that nature intended us to eat that results in poor health.
The whole good carbs and bad carbs issue is one of the most misunderstood aspects in regard to diet and this lack of understanding is one of the most detrimental risks to our physical and emotional health. It’s crucial to sort the fact from the fiction to design a healthy diet plan. As professor Cordain says, “grains are better left for the birds.”
With all that being said, does this mean you can never eat whole grains, potatoes, beans etc. again? Well, in a perfect world, yes, as Dr. Gant says, you would be much better off if you never ate them again. However, we don’t live in a perfect world and it is probably unrealistic to have that expectation. So you should avoid them as much as possible and eat them on a very limited basis in small amounts. In my own life, they are not part of my diet on a day to day basis. I reserve them for special occasions. Try to stick to the good carbs the majority of the time.
However, how many bad carbs you allow in your life also depends on your level of health. If you already have insulin resistance, type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, adrenal fatigue etc., then you are not capable of being as lenient as someone who is in better heath, it will only deplete your condition even more. On the other hand, if you are in pretty good health, you still want to limit your carbohydrate consumption, because over consumption will ultimately lead to poor health.
Dr. Charles Gant: Endocrine Stress Webinar
Professor Loren Cordain: The Paleo Diet